Cope, Gumout & Bahari' Aim High In 1998
20 January 1998
You can see it in his body language as well. Nearly every day during the off season, visitors to Bahari' Racing's Mooresville, N.C., racing facility see Cope in the shop talking to crew chief Doug Hewitt, monitoring the team's new chassis construction program or just stopping by to take his new teammates out to lunch.
This sport isn't old hat to the 15-year veteran just yet, but he has seen all aspects of racing. Cope has climbed to the highest peak when he visited victory lane at the 1990 Daytona 500, and he has endured some lean years with underfinanced or first-year teams.
Now the 39-year-old Spanaway, Wash., native joins Bahari' Racing for the 1998 season, where there are no financial worries. This veteran team expects to break into the top 10 in the points standings -- a goal it missed by a single point in 1997.
"This is the best situation for Derrike Cope in my entire career," said Cope, who replaces Johnny Benson at Bahari'. Cope becomes the first driver to sit behind the wheel of a Bahari' car with a Winston Cup victory on his resume.
Cope knows his goals for the season.
"Simply put, our main goal is to win a race. We would like to finish in the top 10. This team missed the top 10 by just a point last year. That still hurts these guys. But, I think they will go into this year knowing what it takes to get there and knowing they are capable of getting there," he said during a recent visit to the Bahari' shop.
His confidence about his ability to return to victory lane and give Bahari' and sponsor Gumout their first victories doesn't waver.
"This year isn't going to be about me proving myself, because I don't think there is a need for me to prove myself. I have won races in every series I have entered. I know I can win. I just need people to believe in me, and for the first time in a while my crew guys believe in me. This Gumout Pontiac is going to show that on the race track."
In addition to the leadership of veteran crew chief Doug Hewitt, Ron Puryear's new SB2 engines and the stability of a solid race team, Bahari' hopes to give Cope an extra advantage when it unveils its new Steve Leavitt-built chassis, probably in time for the Martinsville race in April.
Hewitt said Bahari' decided to start the in-house chassis program to improve consistency among its fleet of race cars. Leavitt joined Bahari' because he built some of Cope's cars when Cope raced for the Bobby Allison-owned team in 1996. Cope drove two of Leavitt's cars to front-row starting positions and strong runs during the races that year.
"Every piece we make here is exactly the same, so we don't go from one Gumout Pontiac to another and have every little thing different," Hewitt said. "If we make a change on one car, we know that change is likely to work on any of our cars. That is a big advantage."
Bahari' Owner Chuck Rider said bringing aboard a veteran driver like Cope and embarking on a chassis program is all about a commitment to winning.
"The chassis program will cost about $500,000 more a year, but it enables Bahari' Racing to do everything we need to do, all under our own roof, and we will know that everything we do on the car will meet our exacting standards," Rider said.
"This is what has made teams like Hendrick and Penske the successes they are. You could say this is a growing trend to the degree that you can only go so far as the quality of your people. You have to have highly trained people to run the equipment and the required computer software."
The chassis and the driver aren't the only new additions. The black, red and silver of Gumout products now adorn the cars that have carried Pennzoil yellow since 1991. Pennzoil's Gumoutr brand offers a full line of care-car products, including the new Gumout Long Life Formula, featured on the #30 car. Gumout also offers automotive chemical products that clean, protect, and improve performance, including America's best-selling carburetor and choke-cleaner, Gumout Jet Spray.
The changes are exciting, but the goals are the same.
"We have a new driver, new chassis, new engine, and new sponsor, but we have the same Pontiac body and the same goals as before," said Hewitt, "a victory and a top-10 finish in the points. We missed by one point last year, so we know we know we can put the Gumout Pontiac in the top 10 this year."
Gumout Pontiac Driver Derrike Cope Quotes
"Simply put, our main goal is to win a race. We would like to finish in the top 10. This team missed the top 10 by just a point last year. That still hurts these guys. But, I think they will go into this year knowing what it takes to get there and knowing they are capable of getting there. This year isn't going to be about me proving myself, because I don't think there is a need for me to prove myself. I have won races in every series I have entered. I know I can win. I just need people to believe in me, and for the first time in a while my crew guys believe in me. This Gumout Pontiac is going to show that on the race track."
"I spent more time at the Bahari' shop in the last few weeks of 1997 than I did at my shop all of last year. There is a family atmosphere here, and we have taken some enormous steps, like building our own cars and initiating some promising engineering projects. Building the chassis in-house enables us to keep all of our Gumout Pontiacs consistent. We can make changes to the race car knowing that all measurements are exact, and we can duplicate the measurements and chassis changes from one car to another. This team has taken the step needed to get to the next level. This lets us control our own destiny. The one thing I can draw a parallel to is when I drove for the Bobby Allison team. There, Jimmy Pfennig, Keith Almond and the others created a tight-knit family atmosphere where everybody worked together with the main purpose of making the car the best it can be. This is the best situation for Derrike Cope in my entire career."
"Obviously some of the Pontiac teams have stepped up their programs and put an enormous effort into improving the performance. Because we were a bit deficient before, we had to work very diligently to rectify some of the problems we were having at the first of the year. Our main problem was balancing the handling of the race car. Late in the year, we did get a little bit of a concession from NASCAR allowing us a quarter inch more of air dam and more rear spoiler. I think if we can continue to make improvements on the balance, then you will see Pontiac in victory lane more, but I'm not ready to say the Pontiac is on a par with the Monte Carlo just yet."
Roles of a Driver:
"I have always said a driver has two jobs. One is inside the car, and the other is outside the car. I have worked very hard to be effective in both jobs and I think that is why I have been a stable fixture in Winston Cup racing. When I'm not sweating in the Gumout car, my job is to look presentable representing a company in a class fashion and sell its products. Their job is to put product on the shelves, and it's my job to make the customers want it."
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